Last month during the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis, a stage dramatically collapsed, killing five and injuring at least forty people. The incident occurred as a fierce wind swept through the fairgrounds where a crowd of 12,000 people were awaiting a performance by country music band, Sugarland. The force of the wind caused the lighting fixtures and support beams to give way, collapsing into a VIP area in front of the stage and killing four bystanders instantly. The Indianapolis Star reported that a number of people were trapped beneath metal beams and it took 20 minutes to free them. More than forty spectators were taken to hospital for treatment of injuries, one of who died there. The fair was cancelled the next day as officials proceeded to clear the wreckage.
Spokesperson for the Indiana State Fair, Andy Klotz said that, ‘This was a freakish act of god and I don't know how it could have been prevented.’ However, meteorologist, Mike Smith, described the event as a ‘needless tragedy’.
Smith, the senior vice president of private meteorology firm, AccuWeather, explained that winds of 93-115 kilometres an hour approaching the fairground were evident on the Doppler radar more than half an hour before the stage came down. He suggested that access to the Doppler radar was available to fair staff at that time, both through the National Weather Service and an on-site meteorologist. He maintained that the winds causing this tragic event were predictable and criticised fair staff for failing to execute an evacuation in advance.
In an interview with Fox 59 News in Indianapolis, Klotz conceded that concert officials had received meteorological warnings more than half an hour prior to the incident. While there had been an opportunity to evacuate, the decision to do so was not made by concert officials until it was too late.
According to Smith, ‘Decisions like that should be decided in advance through an emergency plan.’
When making decisions concerning public safety, the potential advantages of risk-taking need to be weighed against potentially negative outcomes. The catastrophic consequences, in this case, of failing to evacuate in response to severe weather warnings, suggest that there is merit in conservatism.
While ‘acts of god’ are inherently uncontrollable, this incident demonstrates the importance of large-scale event organisers using scientific tools for forecasting purposes, and perhaps reducing their appetites for risk, as well as implementing contingency plans more readily.